Responding to a request for proposal (RFP) can be exciting and daunting at the same time. Whilst it presents an opportunity to help a current or new client with their business or a specific challenge, the likelihood is that you will be competing against other potential partners. Therefore, it’s important your proposal stands out from the crowd and quickly builds the client’s trust in your approach.
It’s impossible to provide a formula which will enable you to be successful with every RFP as every client has unique requirements with different challenges needing to be addressed. As each RFP should be approached individually, keeping the process fresh and engaging, unfortunately there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ formula for writing a successful RFP response.
Data from the Seibert Group puts new business RFP success rates at between 9%-15%. So, remember that you can’t win them all, but you can give yourself the best chance of success by following some guiding principles developed from my own experiences:
1. Analysis and approach: Laying the foundations
Before investing time in producing your response, it’s prudent to take some time to assess your approach in detail, this often lays a successful foundation and makes the overall process easier.
- Review the RFP
This may sound like an obvious point to make, but if significant time is not invested in understanding the RFP in detail then key points of information can easily be missed and questions may be perceived incorrectly. The RFP should be reviewed by a number of stakeholders who will help to understand the requirements and shape the final response to ensure nothing is missed.
- Analyse the opportunity
Having reviewed the RFP, you will be in a much better position to understand how you can help your client, but before investing time completing the RFP you should ensure the opportunity is the right one for you. If the opportunity isn’t right, then it will only cause problems further down the line for all parties involved. Remember that progressing each and every RFP that comes through the door is unlikely to be the best strategy; focus on areas where you can add value and there is a cultural fit with the client.
- Understand the client and their market
Understanding the clients’ business and the vertical they operate in is important so that you are aware of the unique challenges of the business and the markets they operate in. A SWOT analysis would work well in this instance. Whilst nobody knows their business better than the client themselves, having an informed opinion on these aspects will help you to stand out from the crowd of responses. Being aware of wider issues which may impact the business demonstrates a strategic approach and reflects favourably on you as a potential partner.
2. Producing a winning response: Building credibility and trust
If you are confident that you understand the requirements, can add value to your client and have knowledge of their business and vertical, then it is time to start developing your response. A strong RFP response should follow some distinct rules.
- Be honest. The RFP process is an opportunity for both parties to understand if they can forge a positive working relationship moving forwards and this can only be achieved with an open and honest approach to your RFP response. Forecasting against targets within an RFP is commonplace, but if you feel that targets or objectives are optimistic or unachievable it pays to be upfront. If successful then you will be rightly held accountable for the assurances made within the proposal, so honesty often builds credibility and leads to positive discussions which are a useful part of the process.
- Ensure a strong attention to detail. Spelling or grammatical errors can distract from the content. An RFP is a representation of you and your team – errors reflect poorly on your ability to add value to the client
- Deliver all requirements listed within the RFP. This may vary from the format of the response to delivery deadlines. If you miss a submission deadline or milestone, it will naturally raise question marks around your ability to manage the project on a daily basis. In a competitive environment this could easily mean you are removed from the process
- Support claims or case studies with facts. If you have supported clients with similar challenges or have relevant experience in a particular vertical, then use this information to stand out from the crowd. Using relevant performance stats or testimonials will build further credibility
- Present a united response. It’s natural to rely on a number of teams when responding to an RFP. As a full-service partner, Summit has a number of experts across different channels who support with our proposal responses, however the language and tone should be consistent throughout.
3. Follow-up engagement: Stand out from the crowd
Before submitting the final proposal make a note of any timelines outlined in the RFP and understand who the key decision makers are in the process. This will guide you on chasing feedback within projected time-frames.
If the opportunity arises, a face-to-face meeting to run-through the RFP is strongly recommended. This can often be beneficial for both parties and help build a rapport with the key decision-maker(s), increasing the chances of a successful outcome.
Regardless of the outcome, always ask for and act upon feedback following each RFP process. This feedback will give you learnings to improve your approach moving forwards.
Whilst these guidelines are not a guaranteed recipe for success, they will give you a competitive advantage when developing your proposal response. Remember that every RFP is a learning curve on the journey to success and if you are lucky enough to be successful during the RFP process, celebrate the success, but remember that the hard work has only just started. Embrace it!